Judge Rejects Religious Objection For Maintaining Life Support For Abused Child

A judge in Edmonton (Alberta) has decided against saving the life of a two-year-old girl, over the objections of the parents.

It sounds like the decree of a wicked judge, but there’s more nuance to this story.

The girl’s parents stand accused of severely abusing both her and her twin sister. The extent of the abuse is horrific:

… paramedics arrived at the family’s Edmonton home and found young twin girls emaciated. One was in cardiac arrest. That twin had a head injury that has kept her in the Stollery Children’s Hospital ever since. Her twin sister was also starved and injured, but is now recovering in a foster home with her brother, who was found in good health in the home. Police say the girls weighed 13 pounds and 16 pounds when found.

Just as a point of reference, the average 2-year-old girl weighs twice what these girls weighed.

The parents deny abusing their children, saying that they “fell down a flight of five stairs” and hit their heads three days before being discovered. They also claim that the girls were mobile and able to crawl before their fall. Doctors contradict these statements, though, saying that the girls’ physical states made it impossible for them to be mobile just four days before being admitted to the hospital. One of the girls had a bedsore inconsistent with a mobile child and their emaciated state indicated long-term malnutrition. In addition, their head injuries were consistent with repeated impacts.

After all this, doctors testified that one of the girls would never recover and was close to brain dead. That led them to believe that it was in everyone’s best interest to end her life so her suffering would not be prolonged.

To no one’s surprise, the girl’s parents have requested that everything possible be done to maintain the life of their daughter, citing their Muslim beliefs. The father stated:

“My religious belief is that if it is Allah’s will that despite all the doctors can do for (her) that she passes from this life, then it is God’s will. As a devout Muslim and loving father I find it unthinkable to agree to limit or withdraw medical treatment.”

Leaving aside the gall of someone who appears to have brought a baby to the edge of death talking about being passively obedient to “Allah’s will,” there is a bigger complication — and conflict of interest — in this story.

This “father” (and I use the term very loosely) and his wife are being accused of aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and failing to provide the necessities of life — all very serious charges. However, if one of their daughters dies, the charges could be upped to murder, which leads one to wonder whether this insistence on life-sustaining measures might have less to do with religious piety and love… and more to do with wanting to avoid a harsher sentence.

The judge was likewise doubtful of the motivations of the parents when she said:

“Even assuming that ‘M’s’ parents think that their decision is motivated by religious beliefs and love for M,” said Justice June Ross on Friday, “I am left with a concern that their decision may in fact be affected by self-interest.”

Even more interesting was what the judge had to say about the supposedly religious motivation for the parents’ position:

“Since M herself is too young to have ever made her own individual religious commitment,” she continued. “The beliefs are those of M’s parents, not her own.”

“The only issue that I must decide is what is in M’s best interests. And because of their lack of information and involvement, I place less weight on M’s parents views regarding her best interests.”

The distinction between the beliefs of the parents and the beliefs of a child is obvious but one we don’t hear nearly enough. Muslim adults may have strong opinions about the treatments they want to receive or reject and a complete right to follow those beliefs within the law. Parents normally have legitimate control over the lives of their children, but their religious convictions are not necessarily their children’s and should not be treated as such. In addition, religious conviction doesn’t (shouldn’t) require special treatment. If something is illegal for the rest of us, you shouldn’t get a “Get out of jail free” card just because you believe your wish to violate the law has divine backing.

In this case, the sincerity of even the religious belief is suspect. The judge has ruled that the parents are not in a position to make medical decisions for their children, given the existence of severe abuse. The parents have managed to have the ruling stayed while they appeal the decision. The case is complicated by the fact that the trial has not yet taken place, so removing life-support could lead to a murder accusation for parents who have not yet been found guilty of anything. At least theoretically, they could be found innocent, which would mean they would have been denied the final say on their daughter’s life based on a subsequently debunked suspicion.

Given the testimony of her doctors, it is my sincere hope that this little girl is allowed to go peacefully soon. She should not be tortured by what are, at best, desperate, loving parents or, at worst, exploitative, abusive monsters. Hopefully her suffering will end soon and then the grim task of exacting justice for her death can begin. And no amount of “Allah’s will” will prevent that.

[Update]: The appeals court has denied the appeal to prevent the implementation of the original judge’s decision. The child will be taken off life support in the next 24 hours, and each parent will separately get 20 minutes to see her for the last time. I can only be thankful that she is already effectively gone, and thus she will not have to see her tormentors one more time. May her passing be peaceful and painless.

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • PietPuk

    Oh man, this breaks my heart. Poor kids.
    May the ‘parents’ rot in jail.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    The father could be told that his superstitions work both ways. If the life support is removed, then leave it to his god/allah’s will to save the child. No court order is stopping his fantasy god from doing his magic.

    Meanwhile,  the judge did an *excellent* job of pointing out that the beliefs of the parents are not necessarily the beliefs of the child.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Loving father my ass. I would love to kick him in the balls until he, well I won’t say it.

  • Silver_fox-trot

    I wouldn’t even call them parents. Genetic donours seem to be a much more appropriate from of address.

  • Artor

    How about kicking his nuts so hard they bounce into his skull & pop his eyeballs out?

  • Tainda

    Thanks for making me all teary this early in the morning :(  Poor babies.  I will never understand a person that would hurt a child.

  • Rob Caldwell

    Great post Claudia. Love the way you covered all the angles.
    A lot to think about…

  • mints11

    I couldn’t even finish reading it….13 lbs!? I took a look at my baby’s growth chart and that’s the 50 percentile for a 3-4 months old!

  • Matto the Hun

    I think you are being incredibly insensitive towards God/Allah. He’s been around for quite a while and his miracle powers just aren’t what they used to be. At best he can pull of a semi-recognizable image on a piece of toast or Cheeto. He needs the help of doctors and our advancing understanding of medical science to pull off the miracles he used to do (and some that he never could do).

  • Tainda

    I suggest cutting them off with a rusty butter knife dipped in tabasco sauce.

  • Pascale Laviolette

    Interesting how the son was in seemingly good health… I suppose daughters don’t mean much to them.  I wonder where that idea came from?

  • Yotey

    Ok, so this part really gets me, “Her twin sister was also starved and injured, but is now recovering in a foster home with her BROTHER, who was found in GOOD HEALTH in the home”.

    Why would they physically abuse the daughters to this degree but not the son? I wonder what could cause them to value daughters less then sons, it’s a real head scratcher.
    Of course, that is unless the sisters had medical problems or some other issue that hasn’t come up yet, but if that were true then there should be records of previous medical care. 

  • kraken17

    This makes me feel ill.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    I know it’s innocent until proven guilty in the court.  But damn it, Im not the court.  I say fuck the genetic-donors-not-really-parents-couple-of-humans-in-the-strict-taxonomic-sense.  If there is enough evidence to place the children in protective custody, then there is enough evidence for the court to decide what is in the best interest of the children.   The court took away the kids.  It’s not as if the court is saying to the parents, ‘You unfit to make the little decisions for your kids, but you still should have a say in the important decisions.’  The court is saying that the parents are a danger to the kids.   

    I wonder if the parents beat the boy as much as the girls?

    (Do they, in Canada, appoint a third party to advocate for the child’s best interest?)

  • kraken17

    My son was born 6 lbs 13 ozs… these parents are vile.

  • Gwen

    This is the standard argument Judges use to allow us to give emergency blood transfusions to the children of Jehovahs Witnesses. There is nothing new in what he is saying except that he is applying it to Muslims instead.

  • nakedanthropologist

    This is monstrous.  To abbuse children in any way is horrific, but then to prolong the suffering of a toddler so that the abuser can get a lighter sentence shows the depths of human depravity.  Religious beliefs should never be a justification for the suffering of others.  My hat’s off to the judge – he is making the right decision.

  • Ibis3

    (Do they, in Canada, appoint a third party to advocate for the child’s best interest?)

    Yes. The lawyer for the child and the doctors are on the same side against the parents. The appeal against the judge’s ruling will be next week.

  • Ibis3


  • Ibis3


  • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

     You’re surprised that a devout fundamental religious person values their male offspring more than the females? What’s it like where you live?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    If M is “close to brain dead” the odds of her ever emerging from a coma are zero.  Her suffering is not an issue, since her ability to feel pain ceased long ago.  What we are really discussing here is 1. waste of medical resources and 2. how soon we can see this SOB charged with murder.

  • Yotey

    I should have added a /sarcasm tag. 

  • Heicart

    “My religious belief is that if it is Allah’s will that despite all the doctors can do for (her) that she passes from this life, then it is God’s will.

    If a god wants this kid alive, no doctor would be able to do anything to end her life. If pulling a plug can thwart the will of a god, that’s not saying much for the god.

  • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

     Ah. Okay, we cool.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    I had to go hug my kids after reading about this. :-(

  • Kitty

    If she is “close to brain dead,” she’s as good as murdered even if the body stays alive. They should definitely be charged with murder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Yanxfan Nicholas Mead

    I’m going to be honest. I had to stop reading. The details of this were too much for me (a 32 year old Sawmill worker). My daughter is 8months old and around 20lbs shes the happiest, healthiest, most beautiful thing in the world. How this can be done to a child is absolutely mind boggling.  The fact that the religion card was pulled somehow makes me even more angry. It was the cat turd cherry on the dog shit sundae. My heart goes out to the children.

    That said the Judge did the right thing in my opinion.Reason 1
    Religious nuts 0

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Rusty spoon. A knife is too good for these parents.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    I don’t have kids so hug yours extra for me? This is just so sad and sickening. How could anyone, much less a parent, do that to children in their care?

  • Seladora

    I live in Edmonton and this is a pretty big thing right now. It’s painfully obvious that they’re doing it out of self-interest and for the fear of murder charge, as your article suggests. I’m reminded of the guy who threw his daughters in the Rideau Canal; they seem to target the daughters, huh? 
    Some might find it awful for me to say this, but I hope the poor little girl is put out her misery sooner than later. 

  • Ibis3


    they seem to target the daughters, huh?

    Not always. Sometimes their primary target is their wife/girlfriend/ex and they kill the kids too, whichever gender.

  • Matt warren

    I dont want the parents to “rot in jail”. I was a severely abused child. I hope I have learned to get over my anger and still …I would want see them fairly convicted of there crimes against there own children and in the process, hopefully come out of their delusions that told them it was O.K. to torture and take the life of an innocent young girl and ruin lives of the other two children. these are the kind of persons that, IF they dont learn, should not have the right to bring anymore children into this world.(personal opin based on emotions).
    all these lives ruined for the sake of an antiquated worthless superstition.sad…just very very sad for all involved.(heavy sigh).

  • peter g

    Hey, if one’s willing to kill over an image or words, nothing should surprise.
    The only future for justice is Humanism.

  • JoeBuddha

    So, what are you going to do with the shiny new internet you just won?

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
  • Ewiseman

    I don’t want them to rot in jail. I want them to have a scrupulously fair trial and , when found guilty, expeditiously executed.

    Unfortunately, Canada has abolished the death penalty.

  • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

    I’m not a doctor, so take this with all kinds of salt grains, but I’ve read of cases where people in surgeries claimed to have been fully aware, but unable to communicate or move, and feel the entire procedure.

    “M” is close to brain dead, but not totally there.  Perhaps she isn’t up and moving about and “aware” in the sense that we consider it, but could she be in a state where she feels pain and suffers on a more basic level even though it doesn’t look it to an outside observer?

    I don’t know, I’m not a doctor so I can’t really answer that question – though I can theorize with the rest of us, but I do know the *real* doctors are saying she’s never ever going to get better.  At this point we need to show her the same compassion and understanding we give to our pets and let her go with dignity.

    Then we need to throw the full weight of the law at the people who decided that rather than give them to loving families who’d actually want them, it would be better and easier to torture and starve their unwanted children to death.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542968896 Lorne Dmitruk

    The appeal court upheld the decision and granted the parents a 20 minute last visit with the child. 

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
  • Ibis3

    Supreme Court has dismissed parents’ motion to keep M on life support. 

  • Mediabrainwashed
  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    The hospital stated that girls were seriously starving, bec

    ause one weighing 13 pounds, the other 16 pounds. Police spokesman said girls that age normally should weigh around 26 to 27 pounds. Though the fact they were born prematurely and the mother’s family has a history of twins and low weight

    How prematurely?  And what was their birth weight?  And what is the normal 27 month weight for a child starting at that birth weight? And what is the average birth weight of other twins at that age in the family?

    If you’re going to toss out some vague ‘facts’ in an attempt to discredit numerous police, medical and judicial officials, you’re going to need something more to back it up.

  • pagansister

    Amen!   But as someone pointed out, the death penalty doesn’t exist in Canada anymore.   Shame.   How anyone can treat anyone the way those 2 people (not parents) did those 2 little children is beyond me.  Just read the post, and by now the child has left this earth and will no longer be in pain.  May she rest in peace and may the 2 people who were responsible NEVER see the other children ever again.  

  • pagansister

     Yes, the court apparently allowed 20 minutes each to the people who tortured her—but if they didn’t care about her before except to mistreat her, why give them anytime at all?   They didn’t love those children—-they were objects to be mistreated.  Hopefully there was another person in the room during those “good byes”!  

  • nakedanthropologist

    Apologies – She made the right decision.  I was so mad that my typing was off.

  • Evelyn Kathleen Bodnariuk

    Been like that throughout history, just some finally opened their eyes. The rest stays in the dark ages.

  • Anita Tippets

    “As a devout Muslim and loving father I find it unthinkable to agree to limit or withdraw medical treatment.” Yet the evidence suggests he was not such a loving father and obviously did not seek necessary medical treatment. Hypocrisy/Christianity at its best.